Technology Powers Student Achievement at the Urban Promise Academy in Oakland

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As a PC start-up founded by a college student in his dorm room, education is in Dell’s DNA.

We know firsthand the opportunity education and technology creates and there is nothing more exciting than our technology in the hands of students and teachers. Unfortunately, not all schools have equal access to digital tools and resources that define the way we connect, learn, and live today. Dell is committed to helping districts across the country bridge this gap by providing efficient, affordable and scalable solutions designed specifically for education environments.

Last week, I had the pleasure of joining our customer, Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), to see how they are using technology to create new learning opportunities for their students by visiting one of their leading middle schools, the Urban Promise Academy. Dell recently partnered with OUSD to bring over 10,000 Chromebook 11s to their campuses and make inroads toward their goal of giving all students access to a connected, wireless device. The affordability and flexibility of Dell’s solution gave the district the ability to extend equitable access to technology, support personalized learning and meet online testing requirements set by California’s state standards.

"I actually like the Chromebooks because I prefer a smaller computer," 8th grader Fernanda Cabrera noted. "And it's also like…It's sort of a better experience I guess you could say because it's a little faster and the teachers know what you're doing now." 

But OUSD is not simply handing out devices to students; the district is a model learning environment that puts student access and achievement first and leverages technology to support this vision. By integrating technology seamlessly into the classroom curriculum, OUSD empowers ALL students to develop the critical thinking skills they need to become the next generation of inventors, makers, scientists… maybe even the next Michael Dell!

Here are some of the programs at the Urban Promise Academy that are advancing learning opportunities for Oakland students:

The Student Spaceflights Experiment Program

It is amazing how excited students get when their learning is linked to the real world.

“Today I presented this one two player game that I made and I'm really proud of that because it can actually keep score of your points that you get," said Cabrera. "You can reset them when you start again and I would never imagine that I would be doing this a couple of years ago, so I'm really proud of that.”

After winning a national competition that involved using their Dell Chromebooks and Google Drive to collaborate with a community of peers and scientists, Urban Promise Academy students will launch a real science experiment in space, on the International Space Station, as part of the Student Spaceflight Experiment Program. With the power of Google Docs, students were able to collaborate, make real-time updates and view comments from teachers, classmates and scientists from UC Berkeley and NASA as they designed an experiment to test if worms can compost organic materials in microgravity so that astronauts can save space by composting food waste, and possibly using the rich soil for new plants. Later this month, the students’ experiment will be carried up to the International Space Station. 

 6th grade student Jose Morga showcasing the Student Spaceflights Experiment Program

 6th grade student Jose Morga showcasing the Student Spaceflights Experiment Program


Coding on Scratch

Earlier in the day, we heard from Van Jones, founder of #YesWeCode, where he is dedicated to training the next generation of highly skilled computer programmers from underprivileged communities like Oakland. Van told students they were part of “the greatest generation” and had unlimited opportunity unlocked by the power of technology. We heard from one student who was doing just that. In a STEM class taught by Ms. Tierre Sears, students use Dell Chromebooks along with a free open source program called Scratch to develop games and programs. 

“My job is to introduce these very powerful tools to students and give them the flexibility to make amazing things. I would never be able to make what they made, I’m amazed by their creativity every day,” Ms. Sears said. 

We need more teachers like Ms. Sears and greater scale for programs like #YesWeCode to help prepare students for the careers and workplaces of tomorrow.

 Jon Phillips and Superintendent Antwan Wilson playing a student-created game on Dell Chromebook

Jon Phillips and Superintendent Antwan Wilson playing a student-created game on Dell Chromebook


Blended Learning Math

The promise of blended and personalized learning means that a teacher can use technology to adapt to a wide-ranging level of skills in a given classroom. For a subject like Math, this becomes incredibly important as student skills vary widely and it becomes difficult for one teacher to keep a group of 25 unique students engaged and challenged. At UPA, Mr. Ramirez uses IXL and Khan Academy on Dell Chromebooks to help students learn at their own pace while staying challenged, motivated and engaged in their learning.

Students use Dell Chromebooks in Mr. Ramirez’s Math Class

Students use Dell Chromebooks in Mr. Ramirez’s Math Class

These innovative curricular programs are making a huge impact on UPA students in the classroom and I was really impressed with the students, faculty and district leaders that I had the opportunity to meet.

But according to the district, there are still over 14,000 students who lack access to technology and the internet in their households. This is the digital divide, clear and present. To truly transform learning, we need to extend access to technology both at school and at home.

In Oakland, the district is working with a community of partners like OTX West, the Rogers Family Foundation and the Mayor’s office to provide free or affordable computers and access to the internet for families. We are proud to partner with communities like Oakland, Philadelphia and many others around the country districts who are overcoming great barriers to extend access to technology and empower learning for students.

About the Author: Jon Phillips

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